Courtyard Containers • 20 March 2009

I’d have to be a poet to say anything suitable about this moment.

It is evening. The air is skin temperature and the light is dimming shades of perfect. I’m in a quiet garden sheltered between quiet buildings, though I suppose there is the life in the street making sound down the hill. The tropical plants climbing the walls, pressing out from the alcoves—banana, palm, bougainvillea and a dozen others a Californian can’t name—are quiet though. I sit at a soft-burnished old slate table alone, feeling sheltered by the shape of the huge green leaves and the way they bend in towards me, letting this comfort help bring me out of the uncanniness of this afternoon’s dreams.

How could a westerner become identified with this absurd foreigner's existence? Decide to stay here, build a life out of it? How to generate the will to turn the hyper-reflective repose of this subculture around in to something self-sustaining?

Maybe I can see it. Right now, yes. It’s like any old decision to expatriate, really. A combination of alienation and openness, laziness, gumption, liberalness but also lack of certain old bonds, an ability to create yourself from scratch.

Anyway, imagining in to the lifeworlds of those who have really gone native does overwhelm me, as do the depth and intensity of social life here. People throw themselves in to the bubble until they pierce its membrane and find themselves bouncing around inside. You almost can’t not do it this way.

It’s not easy to collect the recent days’ experience in to thoughts. And I don’t want to but think I should try, if for no other reason than to use the old practice of writing to get a little bit grounded. I’ve been on a fast train through some weird headspaces, plucking bits of good information on the way.

Am I an ethnographer or a retreatant? It is funny to be a person who always has to be both.

The experience is designed to trip you out. Too many resources, too many beautiful and open people, far too much privilege and time on your hands. Where else to go but in to self-involvement (coded as “self-study” since that’s  one of the yamas of course)? You can have any experience you want here: lose the self or go deep in to the self, if there is a difference. Choose anything from dissolution to devotion, if there is a difference.

Today was another intense stream of doing nothing, and will continue late in to the night if I bring myself to leave the house again. I slept in and almost missed led practice—should try to write it to you as a Mysore vignette because it was all so rich. Then coconuts, then breakfast with Eeyore and an amazing Russian businesswoman, then second breakfast at Tina’s with a billion people I’d never met before (except by browsing Facebook photos—always a weird prelude for community you’re apt to build eventually) but who all knew each other intimately, then some kind of intense bodywork followed by fresh squeezed watermelon juice, a walk down the hill, some shopping after a fight with the ATM (oddly, the only ATM in Gokulam is attached to the shala), then a much-needed shower and a freaky 2-hour crash.

Wayne, an old-timer here with roots in the same studio where I too came to this practice, was unlocking the pain in my knee. By force of “poverty,” I’ve got an un-needy body for an ashtangi. Tweaks and soreness always arise, but I don’t ask about them and rather just assume that they will pass. There doesn’t need to be an explanation or a fix. But sharp little pain inside the knee, right at the inner meniscus, is a different thing. I’d never felt such a thing, but the first two practices here something was not right. Strange, there was a knot in the Sartorius and a bunch of tension right over the lymph node, sending the torque from the padmas right in to the knee. The work helps me understand what other people go through, and how it’s key to work all the contortion from the center.

Anyway, after I collapsed in protective, reactive (but newly educated) laughter over the deep work in the leg, we rooted around the shoulders a bit. That’s when the hallucination came up. Yes, there it was, just waiting in my right armpit under the lymph node. A simple collection of sensations from a morning 12 years ago: an interior courtyard at the University of Costa Rica, my second or third day in the country. The emotions and sounds came in first, and strongly; and then there was what seemed like perfect visual recall—shocking since it’s so rare for me to think in pictures.

Later in the shower I realized that I am now in that place. Second or third day in a new country, finding comfort-containment in vine-covered courtyard, with traces of both excitement and stark-serious uncanniness—the Heideggerian uncanniness—playing at the edges.

I thought a little Shinzen would be edifying, so put him on the ipod and lay down to massage my feet. Next thing I knew the phone woke me, the caller telling me she’d been ringing all hour and where had I been. In the meantime it was like my body wasn’t mine at all. I was wrestling against the way it held me in sleep, and against the way it brought me out of the states Shinzen was describing. I was feeling death, the disintegration of my muscles on the bones, just wishing I could get back to what I meant to do in my life, see the people I love.

It was upsetting. Terrifying. An experience of a barrier I suspect will resurface if I take quieting the mind more seriously, and take Shinzen’s method all the way. I would submit that ashtanga can’t do this by itself. The best you can do is trip yourself out by mixing it up in Mecca, but that is a good thing too.

Is it true some people are ever-beset with the aloneness and latent existential terror of uncanniness—constantly taken hostage by this? The way to escape it, from what I can tell by watching, is to surround oneself with life and history and memory. Keep your context dense.

But a little radical decontextualization and aloneness are no problem for a person who feels at home in solitude and open spaces, so maybe uncanniness is harder for me to find. Oh but yes, here it is. Leave it to Mecca to get this out of me one way or another.

7 Comments

  • Posted 20 March 2009 at 4:00 pm | #

    : )

  • Posted 20 March 2009 at 5:30 pm | #

    Hey owl – i’m loving these regular missives from the motherland… have you heard of the social psychological theory of Terror Management Theory? it posits that, in order to protect ourselves from our existential terror we cling to our worldview, culture, history, etc. pretty much exactly what you have described… all sorts of neat experiments where they prime thoughts of death and measure these kinds of outcomes… you might find it interesting at the moment… though it sounds like life is interesting for you at the moment regardless! – Sally

  • Posted 20 March 2009 at 7:25 pm | #

    You are a poet, and you know it 😉 This is all so beautiful.
    I wish I was there sipping tea with you and Eeyore between practice time.

  • Posted 20 March 2009 at 9:33 pm | #

    Setting off reflections of my own about what can only ever in the mildest way be described as similar experiences. Might show up at my place later.

  • e&sj
    Posted 20 March 2009 at 9:36 pm | #

    Indeed there was a lot of this: “far too much privilege and time on your hands”. My utilitarian ethos was challenged. Was this all just some narcissist’s dream with body indulgence galore?

    And as for the aches and pains – you are right – they are the teachings of compassion. They get over analyzed further aiding and abetting self absorption – the direct opposite of the niyama sva (self) dhyaya (moving with great energy towards the best possible).

    Thank you for your writings.

  • Posted 22 March 2009 at 1:54 pm | #

    Sally, I’ve never heard of Terror Management Theory. But I am sure I agree with it. Sounds brilliant—thanks for mentioning it.

    Sometimes I think this is what culture is there for—to keep scary naked existence at bay.

  • RE
    Posted 23 March 2009 at 5:02 pm | #

    I’m delighted that you’re posting while on your adventure. It makes me happy.

Post a Comment

Your email is kept private. Required fields are marked *